The Commonwealth Games are in crisis and New Delhi wants to know where its friends are. If he wants to show real commitment to the “new special relationship” with India, David Cameron must make sure the English athletics squad turns up all present and correct, with big smiles on their faces. The Scottish team has already announced that it is delaying the departure of its 41 squad members, citing ongoing health and security fears over conditions in the athletes’ village. Now the Welsh have raised the stakes, giving the Delhi organising committee until five o’clock British time this afternoon to provide reassurances – saying that otherwise they might not travel. English officials have said the situation is “on a knife-edge”.
Cameron must make sure that they hold their nerve. The UK has a double duty to do so. After all, if the UK wants the Commonwealth to be a useful organisation, it must put its energy into it. When the Queen cancelled a long-planned appearance at the Games over the summer, citing a ‘heavy workload’, there followed a spasm of fury and self-doubt in India. Newspapers accused the monarch of ‘snubbing the Commonwealth Games’, noting that these were the first that she would be missing since her coronation. “The Commonwealth Games committee was coming to India every three months to persuade us to hold the games, saying how important they were and how they would do wonders for our image, just as the Olympics did for Beijing,” Mala Sekhri, a senior executive at the India Today media group told me at the time. “We’ve endured all the hassle and cost, and then all of a sudden the Head of the Commonwealth is not coming. It was decided six years ago: why didn’t she put it in her schedule?”
Another snub, and especially one that could prove so damaging to India’s image on the world stage, would be harmful to bilateral ties. The Commonwealth Games is not going to be the coming out party for India on the world stage that it was originally intended to be. The images of collapsed footbridges and of stray dogs defecating on athletes’ beds in the unfinished sports village have put paid to such hopes. But good can come from it for the bilateral relationship if the UK stands by its friends. The new coalition government has got off to a roaring start in terms of revitalising flagging ties with India. And if Cameron now asks our mollycoddled athletes to jump to it, they had better respond “How High?”
India’s looming Commonwealth Games disaster – Gideon Rachman’s blog, FT
India fears Commonwealth Games embarrassment – James Lamont, FT
Posts on India – beyondbrics, the FT’s emerging markets hub
Commonwealth Games in crisis – live coverage – The Guardian